Ashley Goff

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Patrilineal Habits

Locally anesthetized, I watch 
the needle disappear into my mouth. 
The dentist says that I’m stoic, 
conjuring your gray-eyed visage, 
the blueprint for my own face. 

I remind myself to relax my jaw 
during our biannual phone calls 
even though we only discuss 
the headlines of our lives. 
What’s the use
in getting personal? 
This will all be over soon.

Red gauze is pulled from my gums 
and I think of the sunlit highway, 
twelve years ago, when we saw 
the belly-up minivan in the median. 
You pulled over far ahead, 
blurred the wreckage 
from my teenage eyes and left me 
staring at my dirt-caked Keds. 
After the sirens came, you peeled off 
your polo shirt and left it in the grass, 
washed the blood from your hands 
with a backseat Poland Spring, 
put on a trunk-crusted NYPD picnic t-shirt, 
shifted gears and waited for an opening
in the traffic. You told me 
about the small boy,
his fluttering eyelids, 
his tiny gasp following 
your tenth rescue breath.

The dentist wriggles my wisdom 
tooth free, bellows, it’s a girl! 
because birth is easier to satirize 
than death. 

I’ve never told you this.
Once in the presence 
of a lifeless man, I trembled. 
I assembled Narcan dose one, 
Narcan dose two, Narcan dose three.
I watched the clinic director resuscitate 
him with her own breath. 
The second responders arrived
after this miracle, scoffed at
Lazarus hiding his head 
between his knees on the curb. 
These firefighters shamed us 
for enabling junkies. 
They looked like you, 
with crew cuts and calloused hands, 
but I hoped you understood 
that blood and breath 
are never wasted
in the pursuit of life. 

Your teeth 
are small and flat. I suspect 
you grind them in your sleep, 
the same way I do. 
Perhaps my body is trying to release 
everything I never said to you 
or what you didn’t have
the capacity to hear. 


Ashley Goff (she/her) writes, paints, and walks in Burlington, Vermont. She has a poem forthcoming in Maudlin House.